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Doing Food, Together

Amy Wong's talk, titled Coming together, making space, at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

Amy Wong’s talk, titled Coming together, making space, at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

It was a rainy Saturday evening, the last of the month, and I was feeling the wear of what had seemed an especially drawn-out October. Still, I made my way to Modern Fuel for a performative talk by artist Amy Wong, motivated in equal parts by a sense of obligation towards Kingston’s artist-run culture and the promise of a “potluck-style meal.”[1] I arrived just after the 6:30pm start time following an eleventh-hour salvage operation. My intended contribution, a jello that had been put in the fridge to set the night before, proved to be, once unmoulded, structurally unsound, and I walked into the gallery instead with a sheet of 15-minute rice krispie treats, mummified with plastic wrap for the sake of structural integrity and dryness. The white cube gallery was almost empty with the most recent show de-installed, art replaced with a long table set up with chairs in the middle of the main space. As people trickled in, however, filling the table with food (sourdough and dal, pickled beans and roasted leeks, chocolate-chip cookies and carrot cake) and the air with scents and conversation, the space took on a more intimate and convivial, messier character. As everyone started to eat, Amy introduced herself, first as an “angry Asian feminist”—she’s the founder of the Angry Asian Feminist Gang, a collective of Asian diaspora cultural producers that coheres around feminist concerns—then as an artist; she reflected on the role of food in her art practice, and in tactics for community engagement and cultural resistance more generally; she paused often to engage our questions and listen to our stories.[2] For the next few hours, I shared the space with this group, strangers brought into the gallery for a potluck dinner and, for one evening, friends brought together in dialogue.

I’d love to say that the gathering rejuvenated me, that the exchange of food and ideas provided me with nourishment and also inspiration, keeping what felt on that evening like the month’s accumulation of physical and emotional fatigue at bay—but that kind of hyperbole would likely dissuade you from reading on or at least set off a prolonged eye-roll. Instead, I will say that I enjoyed the discussions—about the similarities between showing art and sharing food as relationship building, about how cooking culturally specific recipes in art institutions might be a way to reconfigure what knowledges and skills are valued in such spaces—and that I was well fed. I was reminded of the particular significance of food for grad students, who often don’t have the time, money, or energy to cook, much less plan, nutrition-forward meals multiple times a day, and who, like me, might find it easier to lean into the trope of the ramen-coffee-fuelled twenty-something-year-old. I started thinking about the varied practices that have arisen around food as well, not only individual routines of cooking and eating, but also gestures that are collective or reciprocative like cooking with or for others, sharing food, hosting meals. I became curious about the different kinds of sustenance food could provide, beyond what is ingested, about what is communicated, transmitted, shared through doing food together—the affection that is folded into a loaf meant for a friend, and especially, the mutual care traded by hosts and guests who work together to make dumplings for dinner.

A recent collective food endeavour.

A recent collective food endeavour.

A quick Google search showed that in the past ten years various collectives and individuals have organized food events and dinner party series with an eye to the community-building potential of food practices. The most prominent among these—Queer Soup Night, Babetown, BLK Palate, and I couldn’t possibly leave out Juanita More!’s Naked Dinner Party—have, not surprisingly, been organized by and for queer individuals and BIPOC, to test out and try to make good on the promise that food can generate spaces in which relationships can be built. On a more intimate scale, I myself have been the beneficiary of a partner who, well aware of my many insufficiencies when it comes to cooking (see jello anecdote), frequently cooks for two, and friends who invite me to small dinners with only the reasonable request that I partake in preparation duties. It is with these scenes in mind that I now allow myself to be cautiously optimistic as I continue to think about ways of doing food together that I wouldn’t hesitate to call rejuvenating.

[1] For more information on Amy Wong or the potluck-artist talk held at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, see http://www.modernfuel.org/art/programming/event/887.

[2] A dear friend wrote an article about the first iteration of this talk, given at Eyelevel Gallery in Halifax. For her insightful musings on artist talks, Amy Wong’s practice, and the social potential of eating together, see https://canadianart.ca/features/amy-wong/.

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One comment on “Doing Food, Together
  1. Colette says:

    The evening sounded awesome and food can definitely bring people of all cultures and persuasions together. The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) is working with hospitality services to see what we can do to bring grad students together, to teach you about healthy eating as a student on a small budget and share some great recipes. Stay tuned for that in the new year.

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